It's pretty easy to get overwhelmed by all of the stylus options out there. But just as a chef might search for that perfect knife year after year, a designer might undertake a similar quest to find the smoothest / best-weighted / most ergonomic digital drafting instrument. Dominic Peralta, the lead industrial designer at Speck Products, and Jon Corpuz, Lead Industrial Designer at Nook Media/Barnes & Noble, have entered the fray with Timbrr, a new stylus based on the iconic pencil silhouette and designed to be produced locally.
But before we get to all of that pencil-making and local sourcing, let's start from the beginning. "Timbrr's story actually started with a simple game app that took over all the iPhones at one point of time," Peralta says. "We were absolutely obsessed with Draw Something and wanted to have a stylus that said 'I'm playing!' So, we ran to the shop, grabbed some dowels, drilled holes through them (don't try this at home!), inserted a thin stylus, sanded it and painted it pencil yellow."
While the inspiration remained the same, it was obvious the duo pair needed to rethink their materials if they were going to be making these for more than just themselves. After testing about a dozen different wood varieties, Peralta and Corpuz decided to go with an incensed Western Cedar. While many designers turn to wood for its aesthetic or trendiness, a functional criterion informed the Timbrr team's material selection: "It has a high resin content, meaning that a natural resin that grows along with the tree is impregnated into the wood," Peralta says. "This resin helps to transmit static electricity from your hand, through the cedar wood, into the copper core and down to the touch screen device." Other wood varieties with a lower resin content don't hold work as well with touch screen capabilities. Luckily, it turns out that one of the largest cedar mills in the United States is located a mere three hours from their studio in California, anchoring their local sourcing efforts.
While Timbrr 2.0 might have followed true pencil form by sporting a bright yellow coat, the duo chose to go with a more natural aesthetic for the production version. "It was when we machined our first husks of cedar that the realized how beautiful and unique the grain was and decided to ditch the yellow paint," Peralta says. "Keeping it natural also brought out the aroma of the cedar and most importantly encourages the wood to patina over time, so that each Timbrr is unique and special to its owner."
The team used Shopbot to bring their design to life—which seems like a completely natural choice, except for the fact that neither of the designers had any experience using a CNC mill on their own before. Peralta and Corpuz had seen the machines in action at many a Maker Faire and wanted to find a way to forgo expensive classes or costly memberships to tech shops. Peralta shares more on the decision:
We learned lots of skills in a traditional woodworking style shop and had a little experience using a basic hand operated mill... but nothing like this. Early on in the process, we made it a goal to teach ourselves CNC'ing. We decided to go with a Shopbot because they are the tried and true company in that space. The team there has lots of working tribal knowledge of CNC'ing and after talking with them several times on the phone, it made me feel really confident that this was the right direction.
As with any project taking the back burner to a full-time gig, it took a while for Timbrr to see the light of day—about two years, to be exact. Peralta credits it all to the small wins. "The way we have been balancing it is somewhat simple," he says. "Just do a little something each and every day—no matter how small, or how far you get, it's something. The worst feeling in the world is a blank sheet of paper, it just stares back at you and builds a feeling of fear. We try really hard to fight that by just doing."
Wise words for anyone looking to take on a passion project. Of course, there were plenty smaller projects and design elements in the bigger scheme of things to fuel their small win strategy. Timbrr's core is a solid rod of copper, so the stylus is subtly weighted toward the surface you're working with. And while its design is noteworthy, it's Timbrr's scent that has really been bringing people in—and the team has no problem playing off of that facet.
The team is currently working to fund the project on Kickstarter:
Kickstarter supporters have the opportunity to get their hands on some of the styluses' by-product: cedar-scented incense and soap. You can thank Peralta's mom for that.
My mom was in our shop while I was working and commented on all the sawdust I had been collecting from the prototyping run cuts I had been making. She said, "Hey, give me some of that sawdust. I feel like I can make something out of it." A few weeks later she came back with this amazing cedar soap. My brother had also just recently taken a course in Sedona, Arizona on homemade incense making. He did a little research and discover that cedar is a commonly used ingredient in many incenses.
All incense, soap and styluses aside, the real joy for Peralta and Corpuz has come from the mixed home they've created within their workshop. "The most rewarding aspect of making Timbrr, is spending time in our little shop using a mixture of high tech manufacturing/machinery with good old-fashioned woodworking craftsmanship," says Peralta. "The mixture of machine and handmade is something we are really proud of and it feels so great showing people how we do it."
For more information—or to get your hands on some of that scented swag—check out Timbrr's campaign on Kickstarter.